Native peoples have persevered as generations of Indigenous leaders and community members worked tirelessly to protect their sovereignty, families, cultures, and homelands to provide a future for their people. Today, in tribal council chambers from northern California to Alaska, the continuum of visionary leadership and care remains intact as contemporary Indigenous leaders continue to confront the many social, cultural, environmental, and economic challenges facing their people and lands.
It can be demanding work. The complexity of issues and community needs has grown exponentially over decades. No longer small villages dispersed throughout their traditional homelands and watersheds, many tribal governments and communities are now major landowners and territorial stewards, deeply committed managers of natural resources, major drivers of local and regional economies, and providers of health care and educational opportunities for their citizens. Moreover, tribal governments contribute to the economic livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Native and non-Native households and can be effective partners on issues of local and regional significance.
“We must never neglect our rights to self-government, culture, and our spiritual values. We are the people of this land, and we stand ready to protect it in every way.”
—W. Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam), ILA Awardee, 2005
Contemporary Indigenous leaders are navigating this multifaceted world with vision, hope, courage, and dedication.
The desire to recognize the determination of Native peoples and the significant achievements of visionary leadership are the reasons the ILA was created. Since 2001, the ILA has recognized 56 outstanding Indigenous leaders for their unwavering dedication to strengthen tribal sovereignty and their efforts to uplift the environmental, cultural, economic, and social conditions of their communities and homelands. Nominated by their community and selected by their peers, these Indigenous leaders come from all walks of life and represent many different tribes, First Nations, languages, cultures, and landscapes.
In June 2022, the Indigenous Leadership Awards will be returning in a public ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Here is the press release announcing the 2022 awardees.
In this 5-minute video, listen to the wisdom, hopes, and challenges of Indigenous leaders in our region.
Full awardee and honoree list
Julie Kitka (Chugach Eskimo) is an esteemed leader who has demonstrated a tireless commitment to ensuring and advancing the rights of Alaska Natives. As the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives since 1990, she leads the largest statewide Native organization. Julie has been a tenacious defender of Alaska Native interests which include, but are not limited to, child welfare, education, health care, voting rights, hunting and fishing rights, and especially Alaska Native landholdings. Building on more than three decades of work at AFN, Julie’s vision and stability as a leader have taken her to building incredible public-private partnerships, supporting innovative and transformative change for the benefit of all Alaska Native communities.
Paul Lumley (Yakama) has shown visionary leadership on a range of issues pertinent to Indian Country. As a previous executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), he has advocated for the inclusion of tribal voices at all levels of government consultation, called for the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty, and pushed to protect anadromous fish populations. His leadership has taken him to Washington, DC where he served as executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) and senior tribal liaison for the U.S. Department of Defense. Currently, Paul is the chief executive officer of the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, Ore., and works with a dedicated team to address the challenges facing the 9th largest urban Native community in the U.S., around areas that include education, housing, and food insecurity.
Spring Alaska Schreiner (Upingaksraq / the time when the ice breaks) is an Indigenous agriculturalist and owner of Sakari Farms in Central Oregon where she grows Indigenous First Foods through sustainable land management practices and hosts an ancestral tribal seed bank. An Inupiaq member and shareholder of the Chugach Alaska Native Corporation and Valdez Native Tribe, and the daughter of former President of the Valdez Native Tribe, Helmer Olson, she serves on multiple regional and national agriculture boards as an effective advocate for tribal food policy for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and small farmers. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and in collaboration with tribal partners, Spring developed a free food box program to provide nutritionally and culturally rich foods to Indigenous communities in the Northwest impacted by the pandemic.
Michelle Week is an admired leader and role model as the owner and head farmer of x̌ast sq̓it – Good Rain Farm near Portland, Ore. Through seed saving, seed sharing, crop planting choices, and continued dedication to educating the public about First Foods, Michelle has broadened community support and interest in protecting Indigenous culture through a food sovereignty lens. She is a descendant of the Sinixt Nation and has brought to life a robust hub at Good Rain Farm which is dedicated to redistributing wealth, promoting economic empowerment, and increasing access to First Foods for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color residing within and around the Portland metro area.
Delores Ann Pigsley (Siletz), Awardee
Nora Dauenhauer (Tlingit) (1927 – 2017)
Chief Adam Dick (Kawadillikall Clan of the Dzawatainuk Tribe of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation) (1929 – 2018)
Wayne Warren Don (Cup’ig/Yupik)
Chuck Sams (Cocopa)
W. Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam), Awardee
Robi Michelle Craig (Kiks.adi Clan, Steel House, Tlingit)
Leaf Hillman (Karuk)
Chief Robert Simeon Pasco (Nlaka’pamux Nation)
Shawn E. Yanity (Stillaguamish)
Top image: Indigenous Leadership Awardee Roberta Cordero (Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation) has spent over 20 years helping the Chumash Nation reestablish a connection to its canoeing and seafaring roots. She is honored by former Ecotrust board member Gerald Amos (Haisla). Photo credit: Jan Sonnenmair